The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs


cities and the internet

The analogies to the internet are hard to miss, especially since this article is what finally prompted me to read this, along with this thread on the Athenaeum.

You can view the internet as a city on multiple levels. There are of course individual platforms, like the social networks, but the internet itself is also a space individuals can live in (like this website). Perhaps that's a kind of mountain man rural living, but I don't think it is. I think the internet itself is a city, but people have invented big asylums in it and trapped us all inside. (Re: h2g2).

Nadia talks about privacy. I think the ideas can also apply equally well to moderation.

I'm reading this book simultaneously with "The End of Trust", a collection by the EFF.

didactic style

Jacobs uses a lot of contrasting anecdotes to illustrate her points, showing the effects of the projects and the contrasting it with the sidewalk life (often just blocks away, or on the other side of the street)

Annotations & Highlights


We are all very near despair. The sheathing that floats us over its waves is compounded of hope, faith in the unexplainable worth and sure issue of effort, and the deep, sub-conscious content which comes from the exercise of our powers

1: Introduction

This ubiquitous principle is the need of cities for a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially.
There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served

3: The uses of sidewalks: contact

The all-essential line between public service and privacy would be transgressed by insti­tutio­naliz­ati
Social key recovery vs key management services
the people of the place must enlarge their private lives if they are to have anything approaching equivalent contact with their neighbors.
Like when the only way to have a social life on the internet is to be an influencer
Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.

4: The uses of sidewalks: assimilating children

Nor are sidewalks apt to be safe, even with eyes upon them, if they are bordered by a population which is constantly and rapidly turning over in residence
This is I think the biggest departure the present (and future) bring. Transent communities seem more andmore prevalent, or even desireable.
The people of cities who have other jobs and duties, and who lack, too, the training needed, cannot volunteer as teachers or registered nurses or librarians or museum guards or social workers. But at least they can, and on lively diversified sidewalks they do, supervise the incidental play of children and assimilate the children into city society. They do it in the course of carrying on their other pursuits.
In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks do children learn—if they learn it at all—the first fundamental of successful city life: People must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other.
Few sidewalks of this luxurious width can be found
Is there a risk to too large sidewalks?

6: The uses of city neighborhoods

As a sentimental concept, “neighborhood” is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with sweet intentions in place of good sense.
The chief function of a successful district is to mediate between the indispensable, but inherently politically powerless, street neighborhoods, and the inherently powerful city as a whole.
To accomplish these functions, an effective district has to be large enough to count as a force in the life of the city as a whole. The “ideal” neighborhood of planning theory is useless for such a role. A district has to be big and powerful enough to fight city hall. Nothing less is to any purpose.
There are only two ultimate public powers in shaping and running American cities: votes and control of the money. To sound nicer, we may call these “public opinion” and “disbursement of funds,” but they are still votes and money.
The constructive factor that has been operating here meanwhile is time. Time, in cities, is the substitute for self-containment. Time, in cities, is indispensable.
Statistical people are a fiction for many reasons, one of which is that they are treated as if infinitely interchangeable.*6 Real people are unique, they invest years of their lives in significant relationships with other unique people, and are not interchangeable in the least. Severed from their relationships, they are destroyed as effective social beings—sometimes for a little while, sometimes forever.
This is a useful phrase

7: The generators of diversity

The overall pictures such methods yield are about as useful as the picture assembled by the blind men who felt the elephant and pooled their findings. The elephant lumbered on, oblivious to the notion that he was a leaf, a snake, a wall, tree trunks and a rope all somehow stuck together. Cities, being our own artifacts, enjoy less defense against solemn nonsense.
Moreover, big cities are the natural economic homes of immense numbers and ranges of small enterprises
Is this true anymore? Amazon vs bodegas, etc
1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common. 2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent. 3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained. 4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there. This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.

8: The need for primary mixed uses

Probably everyone is aware of certain general dependencies by a city on its heart. When a city heart stagnates or disintegrates, a city as a social neighborhood of the whole begins to suffer: People who ought to get together, by means of central activities that are failing, fail to get together. Ideas and money that ought to meet, and do so often only by happenstance in a place of central
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